Bronx rapper Oktober Zero has become an underground favorite with his independent releases throughout the past decade such that I was surprised that his entire catalog had escaped the extensive scope of RapReviews. On celebrated albums such as 2004’s “Projekt: Building,” released on Freshchest Records when the label also housed Cunninlynguists and Tonedeff, and 2005’s acclaimed “The Art of Raw,” he endeared listeners with his gritty New York sound, heady lyricism, creative concepts, and collaborations with notable MCs such as J-Live. A member of the House of Repz and 2 for 5 crews, Oktober makes music that would make any New Yorker proud, embodying the city’s spirit with classic battle rhymes and street narratives over rugged East Coast beats while offering fresh flows and infectious energy—imagine a more lyrical Noreaga combined with a mellower Sticky Fingaz. Although he commands great respect among a small circle, much of his large catalog has been hampered by limited distribution, and during his ten years of releasing records he has performed almost exclusively in the five boroughs. His 2010 album “The Devil Smokes Dimebags” finds Oktober doing exactly what he does best, which is dropping grimy, literate street rhymes as well as some reflective and conceptual verses with technical precision over rugged beats.

“The Devil Smokes Dimebags” features production from relative unknowns Frank Dukes, Heks Heat, Kenny Diaz, Phatkatvega, Simstrumentals, Chum, and David Andre. The music is consistently rugged and often reminiscent of some of the rougher music to emerge from the boroughs in the late-90s—it’s easy to picture him trading verses with Big Shug or Screwball on a turn-of-the-century Premo track. On the early songs, Oktober takes the opportunity to craft rapid, straightforward verses to match the heavy production, offering clever wordplay and punchlines. The memorable “Key to the City” features a somber flute and harp arrangement as well as three meticulously penned verses, and the string-laden “Chittybang” is a menacing winner. He pays tribute to his Puerto Rican heritage on the Latin-tinged “Muchacha” with Onkore, and heavy highlights include the furious “Mustard” and “Gutta Me Homes,” a soulfully gloomy track where he spits:

“Ayo I lock and load, my style is outta control
I get deeper than you fallin’ down a bottomless hole
Shots to the dome, I don’t mean shots of Patron
Hip hop soul, but my live show is rock and roll
I haven’t reached nirvana per se, I’m like Kurt Cobain
With the rifle aimed the opposite way
Under gray skies in the red zone waitin’ for green day
I slay Cyclops to lay Jean Gray
Leave sound boy a red eye corpse
Throw his ass in the swamp with The Thing and some ten-eyed frogs
Bet I floss, semi glocks
The art of Star Wars, knock him down with some Jedi force
In spite of y’all little misfits, I light a pith spliff
Damn right I was high when I recited this shit
Might take your wife from a one-night mistress
Swim in the bitch and spit venom with the spider fish dick”

The second half features more conceptual material with tracks chronicling the sneaker and gambling cultures on the Bronx streets. On the deliciously funky “Future Thug,” Oktober assumes the character of a ghetto Terminator:

“I’m in the year two thousand, two hundred and eighteen-ish
I came from the ancient school to set it on haters
Robot rappers who bleed fuscia blood
Buckin’ android artist, I’m a future thug
Thanks to super advanced stem cell enhancement
I’ll live forever on any seven remaining planets
(You’s an assassin) chains titanium
Hired to hit haters, pay me in uranium
Where the Stadium stood two hundred years prior
Robots meet to hear speech from the messiah
He appears in harmony screamin’ from the sky
They celebrate the date hip hop culture died
This culture’s the tribe I was sent to kill
My gun’s made out of World Trade Center steel
So I smoke purple weed and Jupiter bud
Set it off, say a prayer for the future thug”

The best track is “Spoke to da O.G.,” a stunning narrative where Oktober offers poignant commentary through the eyes of an observer over a dramatic chipmunk soul track:

“I got a full time job at the work release program
Was talkin’ to this one OG, ‘Peace old man’
He said, ‘Peace, like your style, look like a good kid’
He thought I hadn’t been damaged by what the hood did
I said, ‘Look big brother, I been through some rough stuff’
He laughed and said, ‘Young man, shut the fuck up’
He said, ‘You got a job and your skin got no scars
I been locked behind bars before you was born’
I leaned back, that’s something to stress if you think
In and outta jail since nineteen seventy-six
He had five felonies, thirty misdemeanor crimes
Arrested over sixty-three times, more than a three-to-nine
His career was crime, drugs to grand larceny
Kidnap, assault and battery, armed robbery
I asked if he killed when he popped off his burner
He looked at me and said, ‘I never got caught for murder’
He became drug king from stickup kid
Then he sold all of the guns he did the stickups with
He invested in heroin with money from automatics
The dope game turned his whole family to addicts
He said, ‘We didn’t fuck with fiends, we moved the bricks’
He knew all the big willies from supreme to flicks
Said his team was rich, ’til one day he decides
To get high off his own supply, and the dream switched
One clean hit he got sloppy and yes ma’am
Bitch was an undercover cop, direct sale
Ran and got chased, caught, spit in the cop’s face
In court, he snatched the CO’s gat and got maced
I said, ‘Word?’ he said, ‘Don’t be surprised how I get down’
Stabbed and shot up is why I walk with a limp now
I asked if he knew about the tears the game brings
He said, ‘Yeah, but real niggas do real things'”

Oktober is nothing if not consistent, and per usual he comes armed with flows, lyrics, and beats for days on “The Devil Smokes Dimebags,” making it an album well worth checking out even if it requires a little extra effort to get your hands on. Fans of classic borough hip hop and gritty, lyrical street music need look no further than Oktober.

Oktober Zero :: The Devil Smokes Dimebags
7.5Overall Score